I had been told before seeing last week's production of Made in Dagenham that NK Theatre Arts is not just another amateur theatre group. I was told 'the production is professional in every respect apart from the fact the actors are unpaid'.
After watching that show, I'd chime into that discussion and say it was one of the best 'amateur' productions I've seen, and NK Theatre Arts has definitely got something special going on.
The Romiley Forum is a great home for productions, with a roomy auditorium, tiered seating and a large raised stage. There's a small bar area and those that work around the theatre clearly love what they're producing.
I saw Made in Dagenham when it was on in London and already knew I loved the musical, but was aware that timing is everything and it's a very strong ensemble show, so would demand a lot of the cast.
NK Theatre Arts well and truly rose to the challenge.
I'll start with that ensemble element, because Made in Dagenham is a group show. Yes, there are named parts and fantastic solos, but without a strong cast overall the show falls apart. Numbers like 'Everybody Out' and 'This is What We Want' demand feisty characters, strong vocals and slick choreography. The women in this production delivered these things confidently and to great effect, with those rousing numbers creating that same sense of excitement and solidarity among the audience as was achieved in the professional production I saw.
One of the things that often separates amateur and professional performances is the chorus. In a professional production, you can choose to focus in on any chorus member, whether or not they have a named part, and they will be completely absorbed in the scene and the role being created. In some amateur shows, you get the people that are there to make up the numbers, who are acting half-heartedly, or who aren't quite sure what they're doing.
In last week's show, you could have picked on any chorus member and seen they were completely lost in the moment. They all had a character, they all had a purpose, and they were all giving the show everything they could. By the end of 'Busy Woman' (the opening number), when I realised this was the case, I knew for sure we were in for an evening of great entertainment.
I also want to mention the strength of the male cast members. Another recurring issue for amateur productions is not having enough men who want to be involved, or certainly enough men with the confidence and ability needed to pull off some of the roles required. This show didn't face that issue. Yes, there weren't as many men as women, but the men who were there were strong. Most played multiple roles with seeming ease and brought plenty of laughs. A particular mention goes to Jay Dodd, who pulled of each of his roles brilliantly and prompted so much of our laughter! While we're on the subject of the male roles, too Callum Stretton was strong across his parts and had a stunning voice, and Michael Granby's Harold Wilson prompted a lot of laughter due to his confident delivery and excellent characterisation.
When it comes to the female characters, I've chosen just three to focus on, because I could easily write a paragraph about every cast member and we'd all be here all day.
Firstly, Gemma Glenncross was a perfect Beryl. She was absolutely hilarious, and it's a role that requires great timing. Her delivery was always spot on, and she wasn't 'acting' as Beryl; she truly became Beryl in every moment of every scene.
Secondly, Louise Shufflebotham as Barbara Castle. Castle was a larger than life character and it's a task to be able to play this role, deliver all the comedy value, but not turn her into a caricature. Shufflebotham's accent was consistent and her scenes all delivered well, but where she really blew me away was in 'An Ideal World'. It's a wordy song and tough to sing, but she delivered it with absolute ease, hitting those huge notes like she does it every day. It really was fantastic.
Finally, I can't end this review without talking about Dawn Wrigley's Rita O'Grady. While it's a big ensemble show, the woman at the centre of it has to be believable. She's real, she's strong, she doubts herself and she dusts herself off to become the mouthpiece for all of the other women. It's a demanding role, in terms of the songs, the sheer amount of lines to be remembered, and the challenge of entering into the body of a Dagenham housewife of the late 1960s. Her accent was spot on, her timing never failed, and she confidently led an incredibly strong cast throughout the entirety of the show.
As I've said, I could go on, but I think it's very clear how impressed I was by this show.
NK Theatre Arts deserve the praise I've heard about them, and here I am adding some more.
It was a superb production, and all involved should be incredibly pleased with themselves! I'll definitely be back to see more.